Friday, January 25, 2013

Fieldwork Begins at the Wyatt Farm

CHADsters and me

Yesterday, a very frigid day in New Jersey, I and my fieldwork assistants from the University of Delaware Center for Historic Architecture and Design began work at the Wyatt Farm. Considering the warming trends of late, this week has been especially cold with temps in the low 20s (-7 to -3 Celsius for my Canadian friends). The names of these intrepid folks deserve mention: (from left) Keisha Gonzalez, Alex Tarantino, Virginia Davidowski, Alex Till, Melissa Blair, Cate Morrissey, Michael Emmons, Prof. Rebecca Sheppard, and me.

We split into three crews of three and measured the footprints of the house, barn and granary. Becky Sheppard's brave crew stayed out all day working on the granary, while the rest of us moved inside the house and worked on basement and first floor plans.

Granary/Corn Crib/Wagon House

According to Becky Sheppard, who has studied agricultural buildings all over Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, this granary (which means a building used to store grain), or corn crib/wagon house (because it has two corn cribs built in and two drive-through bays), is unusual (by comparison to those areas) in that it has a cellar. A key question is, why? What was it used for? Suzanne Culver, who grew up here, says that in her lifetime, it was used for storing seed potatoes. Was that its use from the time it was built? Why is it constructed of stone, not brick? Indeed, what was grown on this farm over the many decades of its existence? Research is needed to tie this building with agricultural production records for this farm over time.

The foundation of the house is stone, so perhaps the granary dates from the time of the house, but when was that? Suzanne's mother remembers a date in the wall of the basement, "1788." We could not find this evidence, so it may have gotten covered by a layer of mortar applied in 1963 (so thoughtfully documented by the children of the house, who recorded their names and ages in the wall under the kitchen fireplace). I think the house is certainly as early as 1788, but more likely earlier. In any event , it has a curious evolution that our drawings will help us figure out.

Frozen toes drove the CHAD folks back into their cars at 3 PM and back across the river, heater on full blast.

Next week...back to the Wyatt House. Hopefully it will be a warmer day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Project Publicity

I met a South Jersey Times reporter and photographer at Triangle Farm last Thursday to get some publicity for the project. Here is the article, published today.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Watson's Corner

Cow time in Aldine, 2008
Triangle Farm at Aldine in Alloway Township is well-known for the driving of the cows up and down the road between Alloway and Elmer, from the lower pasture to the milking barn and back. In the late afternoon brothers Donn and Dale Smith would drive them up to the barn for the late milking where they would stay overnight, stay for the morning milking, then saunter back down to the lower pasture for the day. It was an traditional way of life here, where cow time was everyone's time, where the filling and emptying of udders ruled the human pace of life for most of the twentieth century.

The daily moves by the herd halted auto traffic at the intersection of Alloway-Aldine Road (once called the road from Pittstown to Allowaystown) and Friesburg-Aldine Road (once called the Road to Cumberland), which had to wait for the cows to complete their journey. Commuters learned either to avoid the route, or to join cow time and enjoy the wait.

In recent years the brothers Smith retired. A young farmer leased the farm and valiantly tried to make his own dairying venture work, but it was short-lived. The cows no longer dot the grassy fields or take to the road twice a day. Folks miss it, but the forces of the economy work against the small family dairy farm. Now the farm is home to miniature horses instead.

My friend Steven Smith knew the plain house at the corner as Aunt Betty's house. His great-aunt Elizabeth Smith served him many an after-school snack there. After Aunt Betty died, the house became Steven's, and thus it became one of my study houses for my master's thesis in 2007. I was fascinated with its articulated timber frame and other signs of antiquity. I found it was a good example of a "simplified Anglo-American box-frame," which differed from the heavy timber New English variety and the Dutch-derived H-bent framing also found in Fenwick's Colony. With my latest grant, I'm continuing the study of this farm, beyond the farm house this time, to the outbuildings and the story of farming.

I spent a couple of days in the County Clerk's Office searching the deeds for this farm. Mapping the land descriptions in the deeds will show me how land ownership has changed over time, and if I'm lucky, will shed light on the evolution of the people and the buildings.

Before it was Aldine, this crossroads hamlet was known as Watson's Corner, according to old maps and deeds. John Watson and his wife Rachel, who originated in Pittsgrove, began buying land around this crossroads in the 1820s, with many transactions through the 1850s. Many of their nine sons and daughters stayed in the area to farm, mill and can. John Watson was born about 1778 and died in 1864. Rachel Seads was born in 1781 and died in 1851.

Aldine sits on a high spot between the headwaters of Alloways Creek and the Cohansey River, both of which still contain many mill ponds impounded in the nineteenth century. John Watson built a saw mill on a branch of Alloways Creek not far from here. The recent completion of the mill in 1827 was stated in a deed of land from Adam Minch to John Watson in that year. In consideration of constructing the mill rather than cash, John Watson earned from Minch the ownership of one-half  of the 28-acre parcel and saw mill. Partnering the two men's assets, Minch's land on a  watercourse, and Watson's competency in mill-building, made the enterprise possible.

In 1830 and 1837, John Watson purchased two adjacent 25-and-a-half-acre parcels from Isaac Johnson and Jacob Hitchner, who had scooped up a 300-acre parcel known as the Gamble Farm in 1829. These two parcels form the nucleus of today's Triangle Farm. The current farm house is on the parcel Watson bought in 1830. It probably predates 1830, because the deed refers to "land and premises." Premises means real estate including house and buildings in addition to land.

Watson House at Triangle Farm
Also, if John Watson, a saw mill owner, had built it, almost certainly he would have sawn the timbers in his mill (as miller Samuel Shivers had done in Woodstown in 1742). However the frame of the earliest portion of Watson's house is hewn, meaning hand cut with axes and adzes.

Hewn frame (post, plate and wall tie) in the Watson House
It is likely that Watson did some renovating when they moved in, however, as evidenced by an ogee molding around the parlor fireplace mantel that has a profile common around 1830.

An 1830-era ogee molding frames the fireplace
The house was likely built in the eighteenth century when this land was part of the Gamble Farm. John Gamble inherited the farm from his father William, of Dublin, Ireland in 1773, who owned it at least as far back as 1749, when he wrote his will. A house built circa 1760 (according to the HABS report of 1940) was on the property and it is one of Salem County's famous pattern brick houses, located just north on the Aldine-Daretown Road. So, the hewn-frame house that John Watson bought in 1830 may have been a tenant farmer's house on the Gamble Farm.

The form and fenestration of the house is typical of a house of the eighteenth-century: a one-room hall on the first floor with a central door flanked by two windows ("window-door-window"), a pattern which is repeated in the kitchen wing. We might call it the "Gamble Tenant House" but for now, the "John and Rachel Watson House" will do since there is more evidence of their presence here.

The Watson House in 2007, before rehabilitation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Woodward and Schmidt on New Jersey Agricultural History

Yesterday I sequestered myself in the bowels of Morris Library, reading the major overviews on New Jersey's agricultural history by Woodward (1927) and Schmidt (1973).

New Jersey has a complex rural history. I knew that the state was one of the most ethnically diverse in the colonies, but due to her various soils, topographies (coastal plains, piedmont, highlands and Appalachian ridges), and periods of initial settlement, so was agriculture. Throw in the "barrel tapped at both ends" phenomenon, and, what a mix.

According to Schmidt, from initial settlement to about 1810, the pioneer farmers learned by trial and error what worked in the new environment of  New Jersey. Growing crops and raising livestock mainly for subsistence, they, except for a few elite and educated farmers, got set in their ways. Some of their ways were, according to the opinions of some critical outsiders, wasteful and careless. Because land was the cheaper of a farmer's assets, which also included capital and labor, it got the least respect and stewardship. Untended fields and sloppy practices appalled European observers. Much soil was washed away. Most farmers were illiterate, so ideas circulating in the press did not reach them. And because of the diversity of soils, etc, improved methods that worked in one area would not necessary work across the state. As long as time-tested methods provided a living to New Jerseyans, they were not about to risk changing their ways. This resistance was the worst in the earliest-settled areas--the northeast and the southwest. Salem County, my subject area, is in the southwest.

Woodward's overview recounted the early promoters of agriculture in the colony--the gentlemen farmers who had the means and time to experiment with farming, and who recognized the universal need to improve it in the colony. After 1750, these early promoters began forming agricultural societies, though the cities tapping the barrel of New Jersey--New York and Philadelphia--also tapped its leaders to their societies, and New Jersey's own failed in no time. Two men from Salem County, Robert G. Johnson and Clayton Wistar, joined the Philadelphia society between 1808 and 1818. A county society founded in 1826 also did not last.

Other means of promotion were fairs, until they were banned for uncontrollable bad behavior, and printed media--almanacs, newspapers, and farming journals. The effect of print was limited, and state and local ag societies did not take off, until the mid-nineteenth century, when the populace was better educated. Then, the early, privately-initiated efforts to educate farmers gave way to publicly-sponsored means, such as the State Agricultural Society in 1856, the Federal Morrill Act and the establishment of New Jersey's land-grant ag school at Rutgers College in 1864, the State Board of Agriculture in 1872 and the Agricultural Experimental Station in 1880.

That was helpful. Next--local, site-specific research.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Beginning the background research

It is 2013 and my grant work begins!

This week I set to work reading historic contexts and organizing site-specific research. I need to read about the history of farming and farm buildings before the field work starts in order to better understand the farmsteads I will be looking at: why they look the way they do and what they mean.

I started my agricultural readings, not with New Jersey material, but with the "Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project" found at I knew that this effort to develop the agricultural contexts tied with with the architectural aspects of farming had been in the works for some time, so I checked in to the Pennsylvania SHPO website again and was really "wowed." There I found "narrative histories describing the evolution of different farming systems around the state, historic census data, a field guide to historic farm buildings and landscapes, and bibliographic resources. Developed to support the evaluation of farming resources for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, the project provides the data and guidance needed for state and federal agencies, scholars, teachers, and the public." The principal investigator and project coordinator is Sally McMurry, Professor of History at Penn State University, also a longtime member of the Vernacular Architecture Forum.

My thinking is that southwestern New Jersey's agricultural history may have settlement and market patterns and even built resources similar to southeastern Pennsylvania's, since they are both part of the Delaware Valley. In any event, it is turning out that the guidance provided for evaluating resources will really help me with my farm study here in Salem County!

What Sally McMurry has done for Pennsylvania has not been done in New Jersey. There is no state context of ag history written through the lens of agricultural buildings.

Another work I am reading for the same reason is Rebecca Sheppard's recent dissertation “Making the farm pay: Persistence and adaptation in the evolution of Delaware’s agricultural landscape, 1780-2005.” It rested in part upon the evidence of the over 450 farms recorded or surveyed there by the Center for Historic Architecture and Design since 1985. Becky Sheppard, also a long-time VAFer, will be helping me document the Salem County farms for my grant project, so her insight from Delaware will be greatly helpful in shaping my understanding of the buildings we will be recording. 

Closer to home, I am reading Land Use in New Jersey: A Historical Geography by two eminent scholars of early New Jersey: geographer Peter O. Wacker and historian Paul G. E. Clemens, both of Rutgers University.  The book, a late Christmas gift from my brother, just arrived in the mail this week. How timely! Using sources like farm diaries, account books, and tax records, the authors looked for "what notions shaped the agricultural lives of farm families" and explored the interplay of market relationships and community life from settlement to 1820.

Histories of New Jersey agriculture by Carl Raymond Woodward (The Development of Agriculture in New Jersey, 1640-1880 a Monographic Study in Agricultural History) and Hubert G. Schmidt (Agriculture in New Jersey: a Three-hundred-year History) will require a trip to the library in the coming weeks. For that I will trek to Morris Library at my alma mater, the University of Delaware.